This is one of the number one questions I get asked by both my personal training AND nutrition clients. Since there are several factors to take into account with regards to eating around exercise, allow me to shed some light on the topic..
The first thing to establish is what kind of exercise you are doing. Your requirements will be very different if you’re lifting weights for 45 minutes versus going on an hour run in the heat for example. The former will require you to eat a good combination of carbs and protein to power and repair your muscles.  The latter will demand more quick digesting carbs as well as a lot of water for the high calorie and sweat expenditure.


The goal of pre-workout nutrition is to:

  1. supply necessary energy to maximize performance during your workout.
  2. help prevent a crash in blood sugar which can lead to hitting the proverbial “wall”, where you’ve just got nothing left yet you know you should be able to keep on going. You workout peeps know exactly what I am talking about! This can even lead to fainting. So in other words, properly fueling before your workout – very important!

In general I would suggest eating no closer than 1-2 hours before your workout. The more time you allow between eating and exercise, the larger the quantity of food you’ll be able to eat and still have time to digest. If you workout first thing in the morning you may be able to fuel off your food you are still digesting from the night before. But this does not work for everyone so make sure you figure out what works for you!

If your stomach tends to not do well with food before working out, drinking your snack may be a good solution. Smoothies tend to leave the stomach faster than solid foods and are easier to digest. Choosing the appropriate snacks will be dependent on the individual.

Pre-workout snack ideas (1-2 hours before):

  • My favourite – 1/2 banana with a little almond or peanut butter
  • A bowl of oatmeal with some berries, and a drop of honey or maple syrup.
  • A few whole grain crackers with 1/4 cup hummus
  • Handful of trail mix made of of nuts, seeds and dried fruit. (avoid pre-packaged as they have tons of added sugar)
  • An energy shake made with 1 serving of fruit, and milk or milk alternative. (if you don’t digest milk well before a workout, use a mix of water and juice with no added sugar instead)
  • A whole food energy bar. These are more calorically dense and take longer to digest so they should be eaten an hour or more before your workout. Or just eat half and save the rest for after your workout. I like Larabar & The Simply Bar. (Both found in organic section of most Loblaws in Toronto) * Note- Avoid bars with artificial sweeteners! Read the label. The least number of ingredients, usually the better.


The goal of post-exercise nutrition is to:

  1. replace muscle and liver glycogen stores
  2. replace fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat
  3. repair muscle damage caused by exercise

What and when you eat after exercising is even more important than before….True story! The goal here is recovery and repair. The key is to refuel as soon as you can, definitely within 60 minutes after having exercised.

Regardless of the type of workout, your body is now craving the exact nutrients that it used up. The 2 key nutrients are carbohydrates & protein which together help restore depleted muscles and glycogen levels quickly.

So yes, this means you want to limit your fat intake post-workout as fats take longer to digest and may even interfere in the important job protein and carbs are trying to do – fuel and repair your body asap.

You will also need a higher protein intake after a strength building workout vs low impact aerobic based exercise (i.e run, bike, swim) due to more muscle protein breakdown from resistance training. A good ratio of carbs to protein is 2:1 after resistance training, and 4:1 after aerobic exercise.

I recommend taking in 0.4 to 0.8 grams of carbohydrates per 1 kg of body weight depending on the intensity of your workout and what your goals are (weight loss vs maintenance vs muscle growth.) Then adjust protein amount accordingly. You may need to  experiment with different amounts based on how your body reacts. This is why measuring and taking note of what you’re ingesting is super important to maximize your gains.

Post-workout snack ideas (within 60 min after):

Liquid nutrition is ideal at this time, especially if you won’t be able to prepare the right meal for yourself within the hour of working out, which is often the case. We’re running from work to the gym, back to work. Also, a lot of people complain they are not hungry right after working out, making eating solids a challenge. Liquids are much easier to prepare, swallow and quicker to digest as well.

  • A homemade protein shake is your best bet as you can control the carb/protein ratio based on the type of exercise you just did. A good place to start is blending 1 serving of fruit, and a scoop of top quality whey or plant based protein powder. You can always add a little chia, or ground flax for added protein (remember you want to limit the fat intake at this time) just to help keep you full longer if you’re making this more of a meal. Mix with water or milk/milk alternative.
  • 2 eggs with 2 slices of ezekiel or whole grain toast.
  • Plain greek yogurt with berries, cinnamon, and a dash of honey or maple syrup.
  • Bowl of oatmeal topped with milk, sliced bananas and ground flax or chia
  • Whole food energy bars; with no added sugar or artificial sweeteners and at least 8g of protein. Simply bars and most Larabars fall under these criteria. Always read the label! If you strength trained you may need to supplement with an extra protein source.
  • Chicken salad topped with 1/2 cup of whole grains (eg. quinoa, brown rice). This is a particularly great meal if you work out during your lunch break.

importance of water:

Last and definitely not least, make sure to drink tons of water before, and after your exercise session!

As for during the session itself, it all depends again on what you are doing. If you’re endurance running, sipping on water throughout is more efficient than “chugging” as that may cause cramping or a stitch.  If you are properly hydrated beforehand, you should be able to do so with no trouble. If you find yourself feeling faint during or after your workout you may need to supplement with an electrolyte beverage. Please no gatorade if you can avoid. Those store bought fluorescent drinks are loaded with artificial sugar, flavour and colour. You can easily make your own that tastes great and will save you lots of $$ at the same time – try this recipe right here.

In short, fueling your body properly for your workouts can make the world of a difference! You’ll feel stronger, work harder and get better results.

Stay connected with all things fitness and nutrition through the Just Get Fit Twitter and Facebook pages. As always, If you have any further questions or would like to share your personal favourite pre or post workout snacks please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Happy workout..and eating, my friends!